"A lot of people say that you definitely need connections or the right
references to get (a film) into Sundance these days," says Jon Fitzgerald, the
28-year-old executive director of Slamdance, the ad-hoc "alternative"
film festival started last year by a group of filmmakers who were snubbed by Sundance's selection committee. "I mean,
Sundance is taking money from some players, like Miramax and New Line, and
these guys are sponsors, so I would assume that it's a natural extension of
that to show their films. They have a lot of politicking to do."
Slamdance is heavy on underdog attitude. The logo on the T-shirts and baseball caps sold in the lobby of the Yarrow Hotel this year summed it up nicely: "Slamdance" next to that time-honored symbol of the self-styled rebel, an "A" for anarchy. The anarchy, at times, went a little too far: thanks to novice projectionists
and a sound system that seemed to have been borrowed from some Utah
teenager's bedroom, screenings at this year's festival could be an ordeal. Still, those whose films were shown at the festival were clearly thrilled to be there at all. As Fitzgerald put it, "We're trying to generate more exposure for filmmakers. And the best place to do that is Park City in January -- period."
A high point of Slamdance was Greg Mottola's "The Daytrippers," an incisive
comedy about family dynamics whose executive producer was Steven Soderbergh,
director of "sex, lies, and videotape" -- the film that set off the avalanche
of hype surrounding Sundance and thus ultimately gave Slamdance its raison
d'etre. The Yarrow's Summit Room B was packed for the "Daytrippers" screening, and an enthusiastic audience was able to ignore the sometimes
unintelligible sound and the bit of fluff that got caught in the
projector's lens and obscured part of the screen through one reel.
After the lights came up, Soderbergh swore that, even if he had to use
his own money, he'd see that the screening facilities were improved at next
Of course, "The Daytrippers," like the other films shown at Slamdance, may never make it into theaters. The knowledge that filmmakers who had already struggled against brutal odds to get their film in the can would have to fight harder still to get them in front of the public lent a quixotic melancholy
to the proceedings. Like David Orr's "Blossom Time," a sodden melodrama
described as "an homage to the great American playwright Tennessee
Williams," most of these films are intensely personal visions that are played out
in a horrendously expensive medium. These obsessed filmmakers have risked
it all -- their mortgage, their Aunt Hilda's mortgage, their parents' 401K
plan -- on the longest of long shots, and this makes watching even the most
awkward film strangely fascinating.
Though a Sundance bigwig curtly dismissed Slamdance as "sour grapes,"
Fitzgerald says they bear the bigger festival no ill will. "The problem
with them was that the press was bashing them for their selections and the
politics that were going on with them, and we didn't have that problem.
We're just filmmakers." And as director Greg Mottola pointed
out, Director's Fortnight at Cannes was begun by Louis Malle as a protest
against the bigger festival, "and now it's an accepted part of Cannes," he
said hopefully. "You never know."